Hawaiian monk seal found with shark bite injuries on Kauaʻi dies
A Hawaiian monk seal died at Ke Kai Ola, the Marine Mammal Center’s hospital in Kailua-Kona after suffering a severe shark bite.
The seal, identified as RM28, was rescued in a shallow cove off the Kauaʻi coast on Jan. 11 after displaying lethargic behavior. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received reports of the 3-year-old seal appearing to be in poor condition the previous day. NOAA, with the assistance from the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources, brought the animal to the DLNR facility on Kauaʻi for initial assessment and triage care.
NOAA experts diagnosed the seal with severe wounds consistent with shark bite trauma and noted the animal was in poor condition. RM28 was airlifted and transferred to Ke Kai Ola via the U.S. Coast Guard for further rehabilitation on Jan. 12.
During the seal’s initial critical care period, Center experts stabilized the animal and began treating RM28 for extensive and severe wounds consistent with a shark bite. The Center’s experts noted the animal was in poor body condition, administered antibiotics and pain medication, and also took a series of blood samples and swabs for further analysis.
RM28 died in treatment on Jan. 16.
“Thanks to the numerous reports from concerned residents about this seal’s injuries, we were able to respond quickly and determine that RM28 needed veterinary care. She was a well-known seal on the beaches of Kauaʻi, and we are saddened by this loss.” said Jamie Thomton, NOAA Fisheries’ Kauaʻi Response Coordinator.
The 3-year-old animal was known to haul out on the South Shore of Kauaʻi. Last year, the seal was found in Poipu entangled in fishing line with a hook located on the external side of her neck. A team was able to catch her and successfully remove the line and hook from her body.
Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian said the team at Ke Kai Kola is deeply saddened to report the loss of RM28, “especially knowing that this 3-year-old seal could have played an important role to further boost the population of this endangered species.”
“We’re heartened to know that this seal received the best possible care, and her story reemphasizes the importance of our ongoing partnerships to help save the Hawaiian monk seal,” Whoriskey said.
A necropsy, or animal autopsy, was performed the next day to determine the cause of death. After a thorough necropsy exam, Center experts suspect that RM28 likely died directly from the severe shark bite or due to complications associated with the trauma. The Center’s team is awaiting bloodwork diagnostics to determine whether the seal also had any underlying health complications. No other immediate findings of significance aside from the trauma and poor state of condition were found during the necropsy exam.
Although shark attacks are not uncommon, negative human interaction, fisheries interaction via hooking and entanglements, and diseases like toxoplasmosis are the main threats the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population faces on the main Hawaiian Islands.